Commentary Magazine


The Fellas Can Come to the Picnics

The problem with identity politics — or merely one of the problems — is that one is forced to condone and indeed cheer for behavior that would be unacceptable in, say, white males. That’s one of the many lessons we are learning from the Sotomayor nomination.

Many have commented that if the “wise Latina” speech were given by a white male judge as the “wise white male” speech there never would have been a nomination. But now the issue of membership in exclusive clubs has come up. Sotomayor has been questioned about her membership in an exclusive all-women’s business organization. The New York Times reports on a letter Sotomayor sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee along with some additional documents:

“I am a member of the Belizean Grove, a private organization of female professionals from the profit, nonprofit and social sectors,” Judge Sotomayor wrote. “The organization does not invidiously discriminate on the basis of sex. Men are involved in its activities — they participate in trips, host events and speak at functions — but to the best of my knowledge, a man has never asked to be considered for membership.”
She added: “It is also my understanding that all interested individuals are duly considered by the membership committee. For these reasons, I do not believe that my membership in the Belizean Grove violates the Code of Judicial Conduct.”
The code says judges should avoid giving the appearance of “impropriety” by holding “membership in any organization that practices invidious discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion or national origin.” An organization is said to “discriminate invidiously if it arbitrarily excludes from membership” on the basis of such factors “persons who would otherwise be admitted to membership,” it says.

A few things are noteworthy. First, the condescension toward men — we let the guys come to party — is reminiscent of the “we let women be social members” excuses that exclusive men’s clubs routinely gave for decades – and which were scorned by women’s groups. Second-class citizenship for thee, but not for me. Got it?

Second, the line about “no one ever asking to join” is rich. Certainly if one declares the organization to be “all men” or “all white” or “all anything” those not in the “all” group are going to be dissuaded from seeking membership. Isn’t the mere statement of exclusivity enough to raise concerns?

Finally, by repeating the catch phrase “invidious” she suggests, but does not come right out and say, that even if these gals discriminate it’s not “invidious” because it’s women keeping out men and not the other way around. This is the noxious double standard that many minority clubs and organizations operate under. Here, it falls particularly flat. Certainly many men would love to have the opportunity to network with rich and famous women in positions of power. Their careers undoubtedly would be furthered if they could belong to a club priding itself on its sophisticated membership. The Times explains:

According to the Belizean Grove’s Web site, the group is a “constellation of influential women” who are building “long-term, mutually beneficial relationships.” It was founded as a counterpart to the all-male Bohemian Grove, a legendary club of elite politicians, businessmen and other leaders.

The group’s roughly 115 “grovers,” as members call themselves, include ambassadors and top executives of Goldman Sachs, Victoria’s Secret and Harley-Davidson. They meet each year for an annual retreat in Belize or another Central American destination, as well as occasionally in New York and other cities for outings described as “a balance of fun, substantive programs and bonding.” The group’s Web site does not appear to mention any roles for men.

Let’s put it this way: imagine how Senator Kennedy would react if a male nominee were a member of the Bohemian Grove, explained that the ladies can come to the picnics and that, gosh, no girl ever asked to be let in. Enough said.